The Great Wall of China. The Great Pyramid of Giza. The Parthenon. The Appian Way. These awe-inspiring structures all have one thing in common: They are examples of engineering constructions. While the Great Pyramid of Giza is a wonder of the ancient world, today's engineers are still intricately and collectively involved in impressive feats of construction.
Amazing modern engineering feats
Imagine the forward-thinking qualities needed to accomplish a feat that pushes the limits. Below is a list of structures from all over the world that required the skills of well-educated and highly experienced individuals. Some of these structures were built to meet specific geographical needs, but others were created to meet previously unattained dimensions or qualities.
- Dubai's Burj Khalifa: The tallest building in the world at 2,716 feet, the Burj Khalifa opened in early 2010. It includes private residences, corporate suites, an observation deck, a hotel, underground parking, and an elevator that travels the longest distance in the world. Much of the structure is made of reinforced concrete, which was poured at night to avoid the hot temperatures during the day that could compromise the quality of the concrete. At the height of construction, more than 12,000 workers and contractors were on site on a daily basis. When formulating the design, architect Adrian Smith adopted patterns from traditional Islamic architecture but also found inspiration in a desert flower, called the Hymenocallis, which helped influence the building's harmonious shape.
- China's Sutong Bridge: Completed in 2007, the Sutong bridge was designed by engineers to withstand earthquakes, heavy winds, tornadoes, typhoons and the impact of a 50,000-ton ship. Spanning the two large Yangtze delta cities of Suzhou and Nantong, the central portion of the cable-style bridge is 3,569 feet--the longest in the world. A trip that was once four hours by ferry now takes one hour by way of the bridge, according to Popular Mechanics. Because large container ships frequently pass in Yangtze waterways, the bridge's shipping lane had to be built with dimensions at least 2,923 wide and 203 feet in height. Bored piles sunk into sandy soil helped offset the problem of reaching deep bedrock.
- Japan's Kansai International Airport: Situated on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, Kansai International Airport is located in the south-central part of Japan's main island, Honshu. The island is 2.5 miles long and 1.6 miles wide, and can be seen from outer space, according to Popular Mechanics. During construction, engineers not only dealt with the threat of earthquakes and cyclones, but also sabotage from the project's opponents. An unstable seabed also posed numerous problems, which were solved by a sand drain, built to speed up the settlement of one of the sandy layers.
- London's "Gherkin": Completed in 2003, this torpedo-shaped, 40-floor building dubbed "The Cucumber Building" uses steel and glass for its exterior. The so-called skin of the building was built with a double-glaze that helps moderate the temperature and reduces energy use. The spiraling pattern of the building comes from a unique floor design: each subsequent floor, a triangular cut-out, is rotated five degrees from the one underneath. The light wells allow for maximum natural light penetration, and the overall shape of the building was selected to minimize air current around the base.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that each of these engineering feats garnered a number of awards. Among its numerous recognitions, the Gherkin received the 2003 Special Projects Awards from Architectural Review, and in 2006, Business Week voted the University of Phoenix Stadium as one of the top 10 sports facilities in the world.
The men and women behind these modern marvels: Engineers
Indeed, it takes a team of dedicated and talented individuals to create modern masterpieces such as the Gherkin or Burj Khalifa. One key player in the development and construction of advanced and cutting edge buildings, bridges and airports is the engineer.
A multiple discipline field, engineering consists of several sub-disciplines including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Today, new sub-disciplines continue to develop, such as industrial, architectural and aerospace engineering. Entering the field at an entry-level position, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) starts with a bachelor's degree. Most engineering degree programs can be completed in four years. However, many universities and colleges offer a 5-year master's degree program, wrapping advanced studies into a complete curriculum package.
For engineers who offer their services to the public, a license is required. All 50 states have licensing requirements, notes the BLS, and earning a license means holding an accredited engineering degree, possessing at least four years of work experience and passing a State examination.
Three engineering career paths: architectural, civil and environmental engineering
Civil engineers. Civil engineers focus their talents in the areas of conceptual design and construction of roads, dams, bridges as well as buildings. One of the oldest forms of engineering, its practices date back to ancient Egypt. A broad category, civil engineering also includes a number of sub-disciplines such environmental engineering, materials engineering and structural engineering. Nationwide statistics from the BLS project employment growth for civil engineers could reach as high as 20 percent between 2012 and 2022. In May 2013, civil engineers earned a median annual income of nearly $85,640.
Environmental engineers. Environmental engineers work in the development of water distribution systems, pollution prevention, sewage treatment plants and more. From helping to design new methods to conserve energy and water to dealing with environmental regulations, the environmental engineering profession includes a wide array of responsibilities. BLS data shows environmental engineers across the country earned a mean annual income of just over $85,520 in May 2013, with the filed projected to grow 15% during 2012-22.
Mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers combine their efforts in areas such as mechanical science and technology, physics, and mathematics to analyze, design and manufacture mechanical systems. Like civil engineering, mechanical engineering has a long history, emerging as a predominant field in 19th-century Europe. Mechanical engineers nationwide earned a mean annual income of approximately $85,930 in May 2013, according to data from the BLS.
What began with the Pyramid of Giza and Parthenon continues today with the Eurotunnel and Three Gorges Dam in China. Indeed, today's engineering marvels such as the CERN Large Hadron Collider and International Space Station continue to push the boundaries of what's possible.